MANSFIELD -- Mansfield's dog ordinance needs to be revised to align with state statute.
"Unfortunately, the dog industry and others lobbied to cause the state legislature to remove pit bulls as a breed specific 'vicious' animal," said Mansfield Law Director John Spon.
Essentially, pit bulls are to be considered like any other dog, as opposed to automatically being categorized as "vicious."
The state law defines "vicious," "dangerous" and "nuisance" dogs without regard to breed.
"There are behaviors that elevate a dog into one of three categories: nuisance, dangerous, vicious," explained Sharon Wesselman, assistant law director.
Spon said the city had no choice.
"We think the state statute provides less protection for citizens because it's indisputable that pit bull dogs as a breed are absolutely potentially vicious," Spon said. "But we have no choice. We have to amend our ordinance."
In the last three to four months, there have been two or three attacks upon citizens, allegedly by pit bulls, Spon said. One incident involved an 85-year-old man and another involved a 10-year-old child, both of whom suffered injuries, Spon said.
One member of city council reported seeing a wild pack of dogs running loose in the Woodland estates area, Spon said. Some eyewitnesses claimed that the pack includes at least two pit bulls.
"In view of these events, we are deeply concerned about the safety of our citizens, particularly with regard to pit bulls," Spon said.
Though pit bulls are prohibited in city limits, Spon said there are "several hundred, if not a few thousand pit bulls and pit bull breeds in the city of Mansfield."
However, Spon was uncertain that under the existing state law the city could prohibit pit bulls.
"We are still researching that issue," he said. "It is not our intent to take any dogs, including pit bulls, from any owners.
"It is our intent to educate the public as to the extreme danger of pit bulls and pit bull breeds, and it is our intent to do all that we can to increase the safety of our citizens."
Spon said that of all the dog breeds that exist, pit bulls have killed and maimed more people across the nation than the all other dog breeds combined.
Since 2005, pit bulls have killed at least 200 citizens and maimed thousands of others in the U.S., he said.
"These dogs, although they can be loving pets, are nevertheless unpredictable, and it could only take the shrill of a child or the approach of a stranger or the mood or insecurity of a dog to suddenly, unexpectedly cause them to attack," Spon said.
Spon asks that citizens visit www.dogsbite.org and read victims' accounts of pit bull attacks.
"Our duty is to protect the public without compromise," Spon said. "Even though we all love dogs."
Spon said his office will present an amended dog ordinance to council sometime in the near future.
The law department is reviewing legislation adopted in other cities, including Cincinnati, as it considers what revisions to make to Mansfield's antiquated dog ordinance.
"Under Cincinnati's ordinance, if a dog bites somebody, then they require that owner from that point forward to have $100,000 of liability insurance to ensure that future victims would have the ability to recover monies for their injuries or death," he said.
Spon pointed out that if an owner's dog causes death or injuries to others, the owner is liable to pay the victim or victim's family.
"The potential liability for such dog owners is certainly at least hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the owner of that dog could lose everything, including their home," he said.
Spon is recommending the city hire an animal control officer.
"We are a city of 47,000 people and presently we do not have an animal control officer employed by the city of Mansfield for the sole purpose of enforcing dog ordinances for the safety of our citizens," he said.
Council will decide whether or not to approve this position.
"I do not believe the safety of the citizens should be compromised," Spon said.